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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
128 pages
Jan 2006
InterVarsity Press

Drama for Real Life

by Steven James

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt



Dramas are not thinly veiled sermons. Sermons explain, dramas explore. Sermons define, dramas question. Sermons proclaim, dramas ponder.

Sermons exhort, dramas expose.

The goal of a drama is not to solve a problem or even to make a point, but rather to tell a story or to raise an issue. Dramas can get under the skin of your listeners, and even though the situation or the story may be fictional, they can still speak the truth in a disarming way.

When people speak of theater, they often refer to ďthe suspension of disbelief.Ē The idea is that we know the actors are pretending, the scenery is fake and the words are contrived, yet we accept it. We set aside our knowledge of the charade and believe in the story so that we can become emotionally engaged. Thus we suspend our disbelief.

Yet thereís an important facet to this idea of suspended disbelief that often gets overlooked.

One night I was watching a war movie (it might have been Cold Mountain, I canít really remember), and as one soldier after another dropped dead, I realized something: Iím gonna die.

Yes, I already knew about death. I already knew I wasnít promised a thousand tomorrows andóas secure as life seemsódeath could catch up with me at anytime. I knew that. But the story helped me to finally believe it. Drama convinces us of the things weíd rather not believe. Stories help us accept what we already know.

Stories open our eyes so we can peer at the truth. Drama uses a pretend world to help us to better see the real one. And we need constant reminding. Because we know all sorts of things that we donít seem to believe: love conquers all, eternity is but a heartbeat away, sharing our faith is important, God cares about our problems.

Drama helps us to stop pretending and to start believing the things we already know. Thatís why we leave the theater breathing the air more deeply, noticing the sunset that spreads above us, valuing the light touch of our spouseís hand as we glide to the car. Thatís why we cry at the movies even though we know the stories arenít real. Because the truths of life and death and love and hope and romance are real. They resonate with our souls.

When we ďsuspend our disbeliefĒ during a drama, we actually open ourselves up to finally stop suspending our disbelief in reality andóif only for a momentó to begin to truly believe the truths we already know.

The Next Generation of Church Dramas

Much has been written about our postmodern culture. Let me summarize a few characteristics of churches that are doing an effective job of reaching our emerging culture with the Christian experience. Typically, they tend to have these three characteristics.

They tell the truth by telling stories.

The emerging generations want to discover meaning for themselves rather than be told what theyíre supposed to believe. Theyíll engage with the message more intimately when stories are used at the heart of the teaching experience, not just as illustrations to liven up the sermon. In  addition, people today are very narratively astute. Theyíll make connections between stories, images and metaphors without having the application spoon-fed to them. Connections donít always need to be spelled out and explained. Thatís why youíll notice that some of the dramas in this book have several stories converging or a group of people all presenting monologues that weave together. This mosaic approach to storytelling is effective in our emerging culture because of the next generationís keen understanding of story.

They foster honest communities.

Too many people in our culture have been shown a caricature of Christianity. If weíre going to invite folks to experience genuine Christianity, we need to be honest about what it really involves. Our dramas and worship services need to tell the truth without watering down the issues or showing only an idyllic version of the Christian life. That doesnít mean we hammer people with guilt trips; it just means that we use honesty to get to the heart of the matter and stop pretending weíre so perfect. Honest dramas are always preferable to moralistic, preachy ones. For that reason youíll find dramas in this book that deal with real issues such as marital affairs, materialism, death, temptation and suicide in an honest, upfront way.

They create experiential worship.

Many people today equate truth with experience. So when they say, ďThatís not true for me,Ē they mean ďI havenít experienced that in my life.Ē One way to help people encounter God is to create worship services that appeal to the senses, provide opportunity for individual involvement and weave music, imagery, poetry and drama together to touch not just the intellect but also the imagination and the heart. This collection includes a number of dramas that do just that.

How to Use This Book

Over the years Iíve found some directors who want as much freedom as possible in producing church dramas, and others who want notes and tips for each script to make the sketch as easy as possible to produce and perform. As I was working on this book I decided to err on the side of clarity. As you read through these scripts youíll notice that I tried to provide as many tips and suggestions as possible. I did this not to stifle the imagination of the most creative directors but to provide help for the more inexperienced.

Each drama in this collection includes simple stage directions. However, the ministry and performance venues at different churches vary greatly. Some drama ministries have a huge stage, cutting-edge technical capabilities and professional actors; other ministries are performing in basement fellowship halls on Wednesday night. So take the staging and blocking suggestions as a jazz singer might take a melody. Use them, improvise and create a new melody that takes the music to the next level.

Every script also includes tips, audio-technical suggestions and (in appendix three) a list of suggested segues to move from the drama to the message. Each script also includes minute-by-minute time markers to provide an estimate of the length of the drama. At the end of this book youíll find several appendixes with more detailed information for actors and directors. Youíll also find a number of indexes to help you find the right sketch for your event. The cast index lists the number of male and female cast members needed for each drama; the Scripture index will help you find dramas that relate to specific Scripture passages, and the topical index lists dozens of topical connections to the scripts in this book.

Most of the scripts use a small number of actors, simple props and no costumes. If no specific costume suggestions are given, have your actors wear casual contemporary clothes. Use general stage lighting and lapel (or headset) microphones, unless otherwise noted.

Some playwrights are very touchy about people changing any of the words in their scripts. And while Iíve taken great care in crafting the words used in these dramas, I trust you to work with your actors to create the most effective presentation possible. You know your actors and your audience better than I do.* So if a certain phrase or specific wording doesnít work well, feel free to adapt it slightly and make minor script revisions. You can also change names of places and characters if you wish. However, please donít tinker with a sketch in such a way that you change its overall flow or theological intent.

Today more and more churches are videotaping dramatic performances and then showing the video during worship. In some cases this is helpful. For example, my church has a Saturday evening service and three Sunday morning services. We use all volunteer actors and directors. So if you volunteer to act in a sketch, youíre volunteering to give up a big chunk of your weekendóSaturday night and Sunday morning. The thought of recording the drama on video and then playing it during worship is attractive.

However, we almost always prefer live performances. Why?

Live performance is interpersonal. It occurs within and enhances community. Itís not just an event people watch, itís a shared experience.

In addition, videos and films are poorly edited, scripted and directed at many churches. If you have the ability to produce high-quality videos that wonít look cheap and cheesy, go for it. But if you donít, please donít. People will naturally compare the videos they see at your church with the videos they see during the rest of their lives. Only use videos if you can produce quality work.

Some churches have started to shy away from using dramas in lieu of having people tell true stories (testimonies) of what God is doing in their lives. Certainly testimonies are a welcome and very biblical addition to contemporary worship; however, thereís no need to discard drama and fictional stories.

As far as we know, none of Jesusí parables were factually true. (They may have been based on actual events, but we donít know.) Yet no one ever called him to task and said, ďHey! Did that really happen? Did a priest and a Levi really ignore a hurt guy by the side of the road? Did a guy named Lazarus really get carried to heaven on angelís wings?Ē The people didnít question Jesus because they knew that even if his stories werenít historical events, they spoke the truth. Dramas do the same.

So, work toward weaving both testimonies and dramas into your services and keep using live drama even as you explore the technological frontiers of film and video.




Instead, they were longing for a better countryóa heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepareda city for them. HEBREWS 11:16 NIV

Diane arrives in the afterlife and is soon discouraged. Itís not really what she was hoping for. But when she complains enough, she discovers a distressing truth. This disarming drama will help reveal misconceptions people have about heaven and hell.


5 to 6 minutes


DIANE a typical twenty-something woman who has just arrived in the afterlife

GUIDE (male), the worker assigned to new arrivals


The guide is dressed in bare feet and a white choir robe. Diane is wearing a casual outfit of blue jeans, a t-shirt (stained with blood), comfortable shoes and a jacket or vest (hiding the bloodstain).


a clothing rack with five or six white choir robes, a clipboard with papers, a pen, an ATM card

Technical needs:

general stage lighting (bright) and two lapel or headset microphones


This sketch depicts the stereotypical views of heaven that many Christians hold. It would be great for setting up a message about what heaven is really like. Be sure your speaker takes the time to clarify what the Bible says heaven and hell are really like!

Each time Diane and her guide move to another ďroom,Ē they just move to another place on stage and motion toward another imaginary door. They end their tour next to the hanging choir robes. If desired, have ďheavenlyĒ sounding harp music playing in the background. Be sure Dianeís jacket hides the bloodstain on her shirt until she takes it off later in the sketch.



A hallway with lots of doors and rooms. At the end of the hallway (which is imaginary) hang the white choir robes (which are real). As the lights come up, DIANE and her guide enter the stage. DIANE is awed by her surroundings. The GUIDE is carrying a clipboard.

DIANE (looking around) Hey, I really appreciate you giving me this tour . . . I mean, having just arrived and all.

GUIDE Of course, thatís my job.

DIANE (looking around) Ah . . . I canít believe Iím finally here!

GUIDE Yeah, it usually takes a while to sink in. (walking toward center stage and gesturing off to the side) And this . . . is the harp room!

DIANE The harp room? (thinking about it for a moment) Oh, yeah, harps, harps. Of course!

GUIDE (glancing at his clipboard) We have you signed up for practices every day from 2 to 4.

DIANE But, um, I donít . . . I donít play the harp.

GUIDE (chuckling) Well, youíll have plenty of time to learn, now, wonít you?

DIANE I guess so.

GUIDE We love our harp music here.

DIANE Um, Iím not really a big fan of harps. Iím kinda more into techno-rock and some of that Celtic folk music stuff. (hopefully) Any chance of picking up guitar lessons instead?

[One-minute mark]

GUIDE (glancing down at a clipboard) Iím sorry, we have you down for harp lessons . . . and I doubt we made a mistake! (elbows her as if he just told an inside joke)

DIANE Yeah, right.

GUIDE (moving to another part of the stage) And over here we have the choir rehearsal rooms!

DIANE Choir? You gotta be kidding! I couldnít carry a tune in a bucket!

GUIDE Well, I guess youíll have a little work to do before you sing for the Big Guy, huh?

DIANE (mumbling) No one told me I had to sing . . .

GUIDE (moving across stage again, gesturing toward another ďroomĒ) And here we have the recitation rooms.

DIANE Recitation rooms? As in memorizing stuff?

GUIDE Well, yes. Thereís a certain number of verses youíll be asked to learn each week. And of course we have periodic performance exams . . . so youíll want to keep up.

DIANE Memorizing verses? Thatís rough. This place is gonna be a lot of work! Oh well, I guess Iíll get used to it.

GUIDE Perhaps . . . (gesturing to another part of the stage) And of course, in this room we have your treasures and rewards. Just like you wanted.

[Two-minute mark]

DIANE My rewards?

GUIDE Yes. Youíve been storing up treasures here for quite some time. We used to be on the gold standard, of course, but weíve recently upgraded to an ATM system. Cash on demand. Here. (hands her an ATM card) Just swipe and enjoy.

DIANE All right! Now thatís something I was looking forward to! Um, how much do I have in my account?

GUIDE More than you could ever need. And any time you want more, all you have to do is ask.

DIANE Wow! I guess Iíll be able to put up with the harp and the choir and the memorizing after all. An unlimited bank account. Iím rich! You should have seen my place back on earth.

GUIDE I did.

DIANE Oh, yeah. Of course. Anyway, it wasnít anything to write home aboutóbut now I can afford the best place money can buy! Marble floors, crystal chandeliers, maybe some cute little pearly gates out front.

GUIDE (off-handedly) Of course, thereís no place to spend it.


GUIDE Your treasures. Your wealth. Thereís nowhere to spend any of it.

DIANE You mean . . . Iíve got an unlimited supply of cash and nothing to spend it on?

GUIDE Exactly.

DIANE But what good is it then?

[Three-minute mark]

GUIDE You can make little bonfires, wallpaper the hallways, maybe rip up the bills to make confetti for special occasions. Thatís always fun.

DIANE (exasperated) This is nuts!

GUIDE Thereís no buying or selling here. Everything you need is provided . . . Well, that about wraps up the tour. Why donít you get settled in?

DIANE But donít I get wings and a halo or something? What about my own little private cloud somewhere?

GUIDE Iím sorry. That only happens in Hollywood. Oh, one more thing, though . . . (handing her a choir robe from the rack) hereís your robe.


GUIDE Yes. All rookies are required to wear a robe.

DIANE What about my jeans? And these cool shoes? This is my favorite outfit! (taking off her jacket, she notices some bloodstains on her t-shirt) Except for the blood here on this shirt . . . (brushes away at the bloodstains)

GUIDE Iím sorry. You wouldnít want to be wearing that when you meet the Big Guy, would you?

DIANE I donít know . . . I . . .

GUIDE And of course, we canít have the others being envious, now, can we? . . . (turning to leave) Iíll see you at 2 oíclock for your first lesson.

[Four-minute mark]

DIANE Youíre my teacher?

GUIDE (smiling) Oh, I love harp music.

DIANE (mumbling) Oh, great . . . (remembering something) Hey, wait a minute. You said I got here as a result of a car accident, right?

GUIDE Thatís right.

DIANE Well, what happened to my husband? I mean, weíd just gotten back from our honeymoon. He was in the car too. That much I remember.

GUIDE (looking through the papers on his clipboard) Iím sorry. He didnít make it.

DIANE (suddenly serious) What do you mean he didnít make it?

GUIDE Oh, he died all right. But he didnít make it here.

DIANE You mean?

GUIDE (nods)

DIANE (distraught) Oh, no! I canít believe it! Youíre sure?

GUIDE (nods)

DIANE I donít understand . . . You donít think maybe I could see him for a few minutes, you know, just to say goodbye?

GUIDE Iím sorry, thatís strictly forbidden.

[Five-minute mark]

DIANE Yeah, right . . . Listen, I gotta say, this place isnít really what I had in mind. I mean, it seems like thereís an awful lot of obligationsówhat with learning the harp and memorizing verses and rehearsing for the choiróand none of this is stuff I like to do! And here, what about this? (touches her side where the bloodstain is)óouch! How come my side still hurts?

GUIDE You were in a terrible accident.

DIANE Yeah, but Iíd always heard that up here there isnít supposed to be any pain or suffering or stuff like that . . .

GUIDE Thatís what they sayó

DIANE óJust peace and joyó

GUIDE óAbout heaven.

DIANE (startled) Huh?

GUIDE You know, heavenóthe place your husband ended up. Címon now, get changed. The Big Guy is waiting to meet you. Itís time for you to get moved in.

Freeze. Fade out.